Last weekend’s vicious school bombing in the Afghan capital killed more than 60 people and injured more than 150 others, most of them schoolgirls. Sadly, this was no isolated incident.
Since President Biden announced the United States would leave Afghanistan by Sept. 11, violence has soared. But it isn’t only Afghans who’ll suffer. With the return of the Taliban, a rejuvenated and dangerous al Qaeda will enjoy the same sanctuary it had over two decades ago.
The US withdrawal has emboldened the Taliban. The so-called “peace process,” which is really a capitulation, has failed. The Taliban believes it has won and is acting accordingly.
The jihadis can now say they have driven two superpowers, the Soviet Union and the United States, from Afghanistan by force.
In 2013-14, the Islamic State scored a massive propaganda victory after it seized control of large areas of Iraq and Syria. This victory sparked terror attacks in the United States, Europe and elsewhere. Now al Qaeda is poised to benefit in the same way.
The only peace Afghans can hope to see is the peace of submission to the Taliban. The group plans to install its emir, Mullah Hibatullah Akhundzada, as overall leader and impose its harsh version of Islamic law, replete with public executions, stonings, amputations and other horrors, on all Afghans.
The Afghanistan of the future will look much like the country did on Sept. 10, 2001. As the Taliban retakes large areas of the country, it will settle old scores with those who collaborated with the current Afghan government. Judges, lawyers, reporters, women’s-rights activists, politicians and others who advocated a free and democratic Afghanistan will be killed or forced to submit to the Taliban or flee the country.
Millions of refugees are likely to flood Pakistan, Iran and other countries. Those unable to leave will suffer under a brutal, repressive rule.
As the Taliban’s fortunes grow, so will al Qaeda’s. To defend the withdrawal, US officials have misled the public into believing that there has been a split between the Taliban and al Qaeda. The truth is that they are as close as ever.
After the attacks of 9/11, the Taliban refused to turn over Osama bin Laden and his cadre of terrorists, knowing full well the United States would invade and destroy the Taliban’s original emirate. Mullah Omar, the Taliban’s founder, predicted the group would ultimately prevail as the United States would tire of the fight. It took two decades, but he was right. Now his successors are ready to pick up where he left off.
Al Qaeda won’t need to return to Afghanistan because it is already there. Since the fall of the Taliban’s first emirate, al Qaeda remained embedded with the Taliban in Afghanistan and continues to fight alongside it. Al Qaeda and other terror groups operate training camps inside Afghanistan to this day. Taliban rule will allow al Qaeda to flourish.
It is understandable that Americans want out. Our political and military leaders have been feckless, promising victory but never advocating the investments necessary to achieve it.
They refused to understand the nature of the Taliban and its religious motivations for fighting. They ignored or downplayed the deep and enduring ties between the Taliban and al Qaeda. They pretended Pakistan was our ally when it has always been our enemy. They pursued a phony peace process that was destined to fail.
They pretend that our adversaries — China, Russia, Iran and others — are not taking note of the defeat. One can hardly blame voters for assuming that more incompetence and deception would follow if our troops stayed on the ground.
If we leave, it should be with eyes open. We are not ending an endless war. We are just returning to the way things were. The endless jihad will continue, unchecked. The war will intensify, Afghans will suffer immensely, the Taliban will make major gains, al Qaeda will be emboldened, and the world will become less safe.
Just three years after the last US troops left Iraq in 2011, our troops had to go right back to deal with the new threat posed by the Islamic State. American leaders have yet to learn the lesson of that failure.
Bill Roggio is a senior fellow at Foundation for Defense of Democracies.